Liverpool four-piece Courting have released their debut album ‘Guitar Music’ (Play It Again Sam). The album follows their recent critically acclaimed singles Loaded, Tennis, and Jumper, as well as a number of festival appearances including a packed out performance on the Festival Republic stage at Reading & Leeds Festival, where the band launched a number of branded tennis balls into the audience.
‘Guitar Music’ comes on the heels of Courting’s 2021 debut EP ‘Grand National’, which saw them earn plaudits across a wide array of media for their boisterous, whip smart lyrics and angular instrumentation. The release saw them land two singles on the BBC Radio 6 Music Playlist (including an A list), as well as coverage in multiple end of year lists including NME 100, Dork Hype List 2022, Daily Star Ones To Watch 2021 & DIY Hello 2021, and more. However, whilst the album follows closely on the back the EP, the new material sees the band making a marked step in a new direction, exploring more dynamically expressive songwriting than ever before.
Whilst Tennis provided a first taste of this new musical evolution, Loaded, and Jumper went on to exemplify how the band are deconstructing their sonic template in order to playfully piece it back together whilst toying with new sounds, textures, and songwriting techniques. To mark the release of the new album, Courting have also shared another track titled . Combining heavily effected guitars, electronic idiosyncrasies, anthemic backing vocals, and sardonic lyrics about the tropes of modern life and growing up, the track is a perfect summation of the band’s musical direction and their focus on looking to redefine what has come to be expected from modern guitar-based music.
Speaking on the new song, frontman Murphy-O’Neill says, “Famous is about growing up, finding comfort in smaller things, It is a song about nights forgotten and days of just watching sitcoms with your friends. Musically, we wanted to create something truly euphoric, something we could cry to. We intended for this song to be the centerpiece of the record, a bit like a carousel.” You can watch the video for Famous via YouTube below.
Courting also recently announced details of their UK tour in Autumn 2022. Having cemented themselves as a must-see live act, the dates follow a number of sold-out headline shows and performances alongside the likes of Sports Team, Wet Leg, Los Bitchos, Bob Vylan, and FEET, as well as appearances at the likes of Reading & Leeds Festival, Wide Eyed Festival, Latitude, Truck Festival, Live At Leeds, Community Festival, and The Great Escape. Their full live dates are as follows.
2022 UK Tour
23 – The Cluny, Newcastle
24 – The Key Club, Leeds
25 – Polar Bear Music Club, Hull
27 – The Fulford Arms, York
28 – Sidney & Matilda, Sheffield
29 – The Sugarmill, Stoke
30 – Arts Club, Liverpool
1 – Neighbourhood Festival, Manchester
4 – Sunflower Lounge, Birmingham
5 – The Exchange, Bristol
6 – Cavern, Exeter
7 – The Junction, Plymouth
8 – The Anvil, Bournemouth
11 – The Joiners, Southampton
12 – O2 Academy, Oxford
13 – Facebar, Reading
14 – The Boileroom, Guilford
15 – The Green Door Store, Brighton
17 – The Forum, Tunbridge Wells
18 – The Portland Arms, Cambridge
19 – MOTH Club, London
21 – Bedford Esquires, Bedford
22 – KU Bar, Stockton on Tees
23 – The Boulevard, Wigan
Tickets are on sale here
This new approach to songwriting exemplified on Famous is key to the whole ethos of the new record, which was produced by double GRAMMY nominated producer James Dring (Gorillaz, Jamie T, Sorry, Lana Del Rey, Blur, Loyle Carner).
Going on to speak on the album Murphy-O’Neill says: “Guitar Music is realising you actually love the music you hated when you were 13. It is lip fillers and being thousands of pounds in debt. It is missing mundane things about your childhood and mourning celebrities you were only aware of posthumously. It is dancing with your friends. It is falling in love with a drawing and it is always online. It is touching toes in bed, hearts carved into trees. It is swimming outside and listening to pop smoke. It is fireworks over family parks and and and and and…
Guitar Music is the opposite of our early releases in that it is very emotional. The stories told may be from the perspective of other characters at times, but these songs are filled with actual emotion rather than us trying to hide.
We felt that Guitar Music as a phrase was reductive and therefore decided to create a record with the intention of it being a body of work that could redeem being a “guitar band”, by pushing it to different boundaries. To us, this record is a statement piece, it felt very exciting to make, to us, it feels a lot more special than we’d originally expected it would be.”
‘Guitar Music’ track list
1. Cosplay/Twin Cities
5. Crass (redux)
7. Uncanny Valley Forever
‘Guitar Music’ is out now via Play It Again Sam and is available on LP, CD, cassette, and digitally. There are also exclusive formats available directly via the Courting store including an LP with limited coloured flexi disk and exclusive CDs with additional unreleased audio.
Find out more and order here
More about Courting
“I think a lot of bands are playing it safe and calling it dangerous,” says Courting frontman Sean Murphy-O’Neill. “We’ve made something a bit more on the edge – a little bit weirder.”
As far as debut albums go, the Liverpool outfit have used theirs to make a statement in just about every possible sense. “Our plan was to record a rock album and then ruin it,” says Murphy-O’Neill. “To have the backbone of the record played by a band and then have it ripped to shreds. There were no restrictions on how we would put it back together”
However, this is not an act of reckless self-sabotage but more a bold proclamation rooted in eschewing convention and predictability. “I think bands are boring,” says Murphy-O’Neill. “There are so many albums that are really long and clever, but where’s the fun? We’re having fun. We’re writing songs about paypigs and putting stupid 808 kicks on every song.”
The band, now consisting of Murphy-O’Neill, Sean Thomas, Josh Cope, and Connor McCann made bold strides from early singles such as Football and David Byrne’s Badside to their acclaimed 2021 EP ‘Grand National’, but have made another giant leap to their album (tracked in Liverpool with Rob Whitely and produced in London with James Dring). “We spent a lot of time on the EP and it was representative of what we wanted to do at the time but I think this album just massively shits on it,” says O’Neill.
The EP is a punchy and dynamic burst of post-punk meets indie with a touch of art-pop, but from the opening Twin Cities on ‘Guitar Music’ it immediately sounds like a band recalibrating. It begins with engulfing yet serene tones before mutating into an eruptive piece of glitchy experimental industrial-tinged pop. “Whatever you were listening to before, should go out the window when you listen to the intro,” says Murphy-O’Neil. “It’s a palette cleanser.”
Despite sounding like a piece of electronic music, it is largely compiled from samples of the band playing guitar, which is a symbolic statement of what the album title stands for. “The name came before lots of the songs,” Murphy-O’Neill says. “I just thought it was such a stupidly annoying title. It’s so on the nose that it just worked. We wanted to try and take that term to its logical extreme and to see, as a guitar band, how far we could go. The terms guitar band and guitar music are always used as an insult and artistically feel very limiting, so in the broader sense, it’s like a reclamation of what a guitar band can be. Can we be a band that plays guitar and still be experimental and interesting? Because even though it’s called guitar music, a lot of it stems from our love of pop, and experimental music.”
So are Courting deliberately setting out to go against the grain of what is expected of a band? “It’s less about going against the grain of what’s expected of a band and just treating it like we’re like pop stars,” says Murphy-O’Neill. “Acting as if we’re writing a pop record and not like we’re trying to churn out another bland indie record. I would absolutely call this a pop album.”
The experimental hyper-pop output of the PC Music label has been a key influence on the group. “I really love what PC music stands for,” says Murphy-O’Neill. “Also as a label, I love that they create a ridiculous aesthetic and poke fun in an unironic way. We’re trying to do a similar thing with the idea of a rock band that they’ve done with a pop star. People should be going: ‘this is ridiculous’. People should listen to Loaded and be like: ‘this the most ridiculous rock song I’ve ever heard, I’d get in a pit for this’.”
However, despite the deep love of pop, the noisy bits, the supposed ruining of songs in their traditional form, that’s not to say this is an impenetrable or alienating record. There is a balance between wild experimentation and radio friendly rippers. Jumper is a delectable slice of indie-pop-rock that is as sweet and endearing as it is melodically catchy and hook-filled.
What makes it all the more sprightly is how it segues from the blistering and discordant thrash of a re-recorded ‘Crass’, a highlight from the ‘Grand National’ EP. “We could write 12 ‘Jumpers’ and have a really poppy record,” says Murphy O-Neill. “But if we did that, no one will ever listen to the weird shit we want to do. Just as people get comfortable, the record should change direction and make them uncomfortable again. It should be unpredictable. It should feel a bit like whiplash.” Whiplash is a perfect description for an album that hurtles you back and forth between sounds, styles, tones and paces.
Deeply rooted in this album is a sense of the band not wanting to repeat themselves or play it safe. “A lot of bands think: first album, we’ll put all the early successful singles on,” says Murphy-O’Neill. “But we thought: we’ll put none on except for one song [‘Crass’] and redo it and make it louder and noisier.”
Reworking the older song was something they needed to do in order to transplant the spirit of the new recordings onto this one. “Looking back, we didn’t take enough of a risk with it,” says Murphy-O’Neill. “That annoyed me and so I thought if that’s the starting point of the record we should do it justice, we should bring it back and ruin it like the rest of the record and show that we are now confident enough to do that. We’re not hiding those inhibitions.”
Despite the vast scope, ambition and experimentation that underpins the record, another dichotomy to be found within it is that it’s also a deeply emotional and personal record. “It’s the opposite of our early releases in that it is very emotional,” Murphy-O’Neill says. “The stories told may be from the perspective of other characters at times, but these songs are filled with actual emotion rather than us trying to hide. The goal was to write less about vague ideas, because I didn’t find that challenging. I think the reason so many bands write politically is because they’re too scared to write personally, because it’s really hard.”
A track like Uncanny Valley Forever perfectly embodies this approach of merging sonic experimentation with lyrics that possess a real emotional weight. Even though the track in question – a nine-minute unfurling groove with a post-rock lick that builds and builds – is about a CGI influencer, it still had to land emotionally. “The challenge of it came to be: how do I make this sound honest and not like a joke?” asks Murphy-O’Neill. “Because on paper it sounds like such a funny topic, someone falling in love with a CGI influencer, so it was really hard to write because I had to do the character justice and sing as if I’m actually in love with her.”
Similarly, the closing PDA is also a track that contains a great deal of pathos. “It’s an open book, our display of affection for those around us,” says Murphy O-Neill. “It was recorded on Bonfire night, and the fireworks you can hear at the end were recorded out of the window of the studio. It is meant to feel like closure, a celebration.” It is the last of many symbolic moments that pepper the album and perhaps the most fitting of them all: a debut LP that goes off like a firework.